Trump Is A Coward

I have a lot more to say on the SCO’s report, but there’s one thing most people missed. Josh Marshall spotted it too.

Trump already knew these things didn’t happen. Sessions didn’t unrecuse. Corey Lewandowski never sent his backchannel messages to Sessions. And of course Robert Mueller was never fired. What I suspect is most angering to Trump, most humiliating is precisely that these narratives show he never did anything about it. He could have fired McGahn and gotten another White House Counsel. He could have fired Mueller himself. (…) More straightforwardly, like Richard Nixon, he could have fired McGahns and Rosensteins until he found someone who would carry out his orders. But he didn’t. (Revealingly, in the one case of a real firing, he had a letter hand-delivered to James Comey at FBI headquarters when he knew Comey was on a trip to California.)

The image is one of weakness, someone who blusters but is actually surprisingly, paradoxically conflict averse.

This forms a clear pattern of behavior. Remember this incident?

For one thing, Trump announced the appointment of Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to be chief of staff (and thus that Priebus was leaving) through a string of three tweets. Second, according to a pool report by Politico’s Josh Gerstein, following an Air Force One flight Priebus was almost literally kicked to the curb.

After Air Force One arrived in Andrews Air Force base in Maryland outside DC, following a trip to Long Island, Priebus initially boarded an SUV with other senior White House staff — before those staff members left his vehicle for another one. And when news broke of the firing, Priebus’s car was literally pulled out of the motorcade and sent on its way. The whole time, Trump sat in Air Force One …

Or all the “resign-firings,” of which Kirstjen Nielsen is only the most recent example. That isn’t what you expect from a leader, let alone a strong leader. It is what you expect from someone with incredibly low self-esteem, though. Someone who is desperate for praise, because they are deeply insecure about themselves. These people tend to think everyone is talking about them implicitly. They trash other people to make themselves look better, while cravenly sucking up to anyone who could help them; note that the people Trump most praises are either authoritarian leaders with access to world-class hacking capabilities, or influential Fox News and right-wing media hosts.

Trump is a coward, with an unusually high level of insecurity. His leadership style is to allow his subordinates to do whatever they want, so long as they praise or protect him. Even when they don’t live up to their end of the bargain, Trump will ineptly complain about them for months on Twitter before he can work up the courage to do anything about it.

No wonder Putin has Trump wrapped around his finger. Anyone that insecure is easy to manipulate.

Two Opposing Camps

[CONTENT WARNING: Transphobia, TERFs]

Alas, we hit another depressing milestone a few days ago: “A new Pentagon policy that effectively bans transgender people from joining the US military and serving in their preferred gender has come into effect.” If you’re wondering what happened to all those court cases, they’re still ongoing; lower courts had issued injunctions preventing the Pentagon from putting the policy into place until the legality was settled, the Department of Justice appealed those injunctions, lost, and kept appealing right to the Supreme Court. The DoJ wanted the Supremes to short-circuit judicial process and immediately take over the case, which they sensibly refused, but the conservative judges voted to stay the injunction. The Pentagon was thus free to effectively ban transgender soldiers while the courts figured out if they legally could.

Yeah, I don’t understand that last bit either.

The ban has revealed two different camps on the issue. The American Medical Association has repeatedly said transgender soldiers should be allowed to serve, but they’re merely the medical experts. What about people with direct military experience? Let’s see what a Republican with a record of military service had to say at a hearing on the ban. [Read more…]

Sexism Poisons Everything

That black hole image was something, wasn’t it? For a few days, we all managed to forget the train wreck that is modern politics and celebrate science in its purest form. Alas, for some people there was one problem with M87’s black hole.

Dr. Katie Bouman, in front of a stack of hard drives.

A woman was involved! Despite the evidence that Dr. Bouman played a crucial role or had the expertise, they instead decided Andrew Chael had done all the work and she was faking it.

So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library () to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman. Stop.

Our papers used three independent imaging software libraries (…). While I wrote much of the code for one of these pipelines, Katie was a huge contributor to the software; it would have never worked without her contributions and

the work of many others who wrote code, debugged, and figured out how to use the code on challenging EHT data. With a few others, Katie also developed the imaging framework that rigorously tested all three codes and shaped the entire paper ();

as a result, this is probably the most vetted image in the history of radio interferometry. I’m thrilled Katie is getting recognition for her work and that she’s inspiring people as an example of women’s leadership in STEM. I’m also thrilled she’s pointing

out that this was a team effort including contributions from many junior scientists, including many women junior scientists (). Together, we all make each other’s work better; the number of commits doesn’t tell the full story of who was indispensable.

Amusingly, their attempt to beat back social justice within the sciences kinda backfired.

As openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other gender/sexual minority (LGBTQIA+) members of the astronomical community, we strongly believe that there is no place for discrimination based on sexual orientation/preference or gender identity/expression. We want to actively maintain and promote a safe, accepting and supportive environment in all our work places. We invite other LGBTQIA+ members of the astronomical community to join us in being visible and to reach out to those who still feel that it is not yet safe for them to be public.

As experts, TAs, instructors, professors and technical staff, we serve as professional role models every day. Let us also become positive examples of members of the LGBTQIA+ community at large.

We also invite everyone in our community, regardless how you identify yourself, to become an ally and make visible your acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people. We urge you to make visible (and audible) your objections to derogatory comments and “jokes” about LGBTQIA+ people.

In the light of the above statements, we, your fellow students, alumni/ae, faculty, coworkers, and friends, sign this message.

[…]
Andrew Chael, Graduate Student, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
[…]

Yep, the poster boy for those anti-SJWs is an SJW himself!

So while I appreciate the congratulations on a result that I worked hard on for years, if you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life. Otherwise, stick around — I hope to start tweeting

more about black holes and other subjects I am passionate about — including space, being a gay astronomer, Ursula K. Le Guin, architecture, and musicals. Thanks for following me, and let me know if you have any questions about the EHT!

If you want a simple reason why I spend far more time talking about sexism than religion, this is it. What has done more harm to the world, religion or sexism? Which of the two depends most heavily on poor arguments and evidence? While religion can do good things once in a while, sexism is prevented from that by definition.

Nevermind religion, sexism poisons everything.


… Whoops, I should probably read Pharyngula more often. Ah well, my rant at the end was still worth the effort.

The “Summary” That Wasn’t

Remember that letter from eight days ago? Emphasis mine:

On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. $ 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

This prompted a lot of discussion of Barr’s memo; follow that New York Times link, and the headline declares it a summary. CNN called it a summary too, as did the Washington Post, Vox, The Atlantic, Business Insider, the CBC, and so on. Three days ago, or five days after he released his first memo, Barr released a second.

Also, I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing my March 24, 2019 supplemental notification as a “summary” of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report. For example, Chairman Nadler’s March 25 letter refers to my supplemental notification as a “four-page summary of the Special Counsel’s review.” My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.

Wait, so that original memo wasn’t a summary? Then what was it?

… an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. As my letter made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its “principal conclusions”—that is, its bottom line.

Any reasonable person would treat “summary” and “summarize its principle conclusions” as synonymous, and conclude Barr was releasing a summary. Barr is trying to pull a Bill Clinton and push a specific interpretation of specific words that’s at odds with their general understanding. As a lawyer, he almost certainly chose those words deliberately and with that intent.

That’s barely the start of what was wrong with Barr’s original memo.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti observes that “he is likely pushing back because calling it a ‘summary’ suggests that the letter accurately summarizes the entire report, and it does not do so.” Moreover, by hiding even the length of the report in the first letter, Barr helped President Trump perpetuate the assertion that Mueller hadn’t found much of anything. If it took almost 400 pages to lay out his findings, we can bet there’s plenty of interest to the American people.

Other Justice Department veterans agree that Barr is playing defense. “I think he’s clearly a bit stung by the criticism he’s gotten this week, and this letter was his attempt to look like he is committed to transparency without actually making any new commitments,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller.

Note the timing as well: Barr’s first memo was released two days after he announced he had the SCO report, when the media was desperate for any scraps and would eagerly blast them to the public. His second memo was released on a Friday night, when the media was less likely to notice and report on it, and long after everyone had already called the first memo a summary.

Then there’s the issue of redactions: Barr identified two types of information he’d like to redact in his first memo, info related to ongoing investigations and “matters occurring before a grand jury.” In the second memo two more categories pop up, “material … potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods” plus “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

All but the first of these four categories are problematic. […]

“This is not how things are meant to happen,” said Professor Neil Katyal, Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States, who drafted the special counsel regulations, on MSNBC on March 29.

In connection with Barr’s unwillingness to release the unredacted report to Congress, Katyal said: “The fact that he won’t do that is really suspicious and tells me that there is information in the Mueller Report that Barr doesn’t want to come out. I don’t think it’s for up-and-up reasons. I think it’s because it’s embarrassing to the president.”

As that Forbes editorial points out, this wasn’t a problem with past Special Council reports. Ken Starr finished his report on a Wednesday, and Congress was given a full, unredacted version of it the same day. It too contained grand jury material, but Starr merely had to consult with a judge to get that released to Congress. The public themselves got restricted access two days later via the internet. The turnaround was so rapid because, as Special Council, Starr knew his report had to be delivered to Congress and the public. He’d done the hard work of working out the redactions while drafting the report, so the publication would proceed as rapidly as possible.

Yet Barr is implying Mueller had no idea he’d be submitting his report to Congress or the public, and offloaded that work to Barr. Tack on the fact that Barr’s job application included an unsolicited memo which claimed the President was immune from prosecution, and his past work was stopping the Iran-Contra investigation by pardoning the key players, and this stinks of a deliberate cover-up. No wonder the House Judiciary committee is preparing the subpoena cannon.

 

“You might think that’s OK”

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I treat US Republican politicians as if they were a hive mind. That’s obviously false, but when they act as a unit to continue family separation policies or put partisan hacks on the Supreme Court then their differences are small enough to safely ignore.

Today, we got another example of that. The Intelligence Committee within the US House of Representatives held a hearing on Russian interference. Rather than contribute towards that, however, every Republican on the committee used their time to demand the head of the committee step down. Why? According to a letter they released,

Despite these findings [of the Special Council report], you continue to proclaim in the media that there is “significant evidence of collusion.” You further have stated you “will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised in any way to a hostile foreign power?” Your willingness to continue to promote a demonstrably false narrative is alarming.

Either Adam Schiff knew this was coming, or he’s damn quick on his feet, because he shot back with this. Forgive the length of this quote, but it’s worth absorbing in full. [Read more…]

Ugh, Not Again

P-values are back in the news. Nature published an article, signed by 800 scientists, calling for an end to the concept of “statistical significance.” It ruffled my feathers, even though I agreed with its central thesis.

The trouble is human and cognitive more than it is statistical: bucketing results into ‘statistically significant’ and ‘statistically non-significant’ makes people think that the items assigned in that way are categorically different. The same problems are likely to arise under any proposed statistical alternative that involves dichotomization, whether frequentist, Bayesian or otherwise.

Unfortunately, the false belief that crossing the threshold of statistical significance is enough to show that a result is ‘real’ has led scientists and journal editors to privilege such results, thereby distorting the literature. Statistically significant estimates are biased upwards in magnitude and potentially to a large degree, whereas statistically non-significant estimates are biased downwards in magnitude. Consequently, any discussion that focuses on estimates chosen for their significance will be biased. On top of this, the rigid focus on statistical significance encourages researchers to choose data and methods that yield statistical significance for some desired (or simply publishable) result, or that yield statistical non-significance for an undesired result, such as potential side effects of drugs — thereby invalidating conclusions.

Nothing wrong there. While I’ve mentioned some Bayesian buckets, I tucked away a one-sentence counter-argument in an aside over here. Any artificial significant/non-significant boundary is going to promote the distortions they mention here. What got me writing this post was their recommendations.

What will retiring statistical significance look like? We hope that methods sections and data tabulation will be more detailed and nuanced. Authors will emphasize their estimates and the uncertainty in them — for example, by explicitly discussing the lower and upper limits of their intervals. They will not rely on significance tests. When P values are reported, they will be given with sensible precision (for example, P = 0.021 or P = 0.13) — without adornments such as stars or letters to denote statistical significance and not as binary inequalities (P  < 0.05 or P > 0.05). Decisions to interpret or to publish results will not be based on statistical thresholds. People will spend less time with statistical software, and more time thinking.

This basically amounts to nothing. Journal editors still have to decide what to print, and if there is no strong alternative they’ll switch from an arbitrary cutoff of p < 0.05 to an ad-hoc arbitrary cutoff. In the meantime, they’re leaving flawed statistical procedures in place. P-values exaggerate the strength of the evidence, as I and others have argued. Confidence intervals are not an improvement, either. As I put it:

For one thing, if you’re a frequentist it’s a category error to state the odds of a hypothesis being true, or that some data makes a hypothesis more likely, or even that you’re testing the truth-hood of a hypothesis. […]

How does this intersect with confidence intervals? If it’s an invalid move to hypothesise[sic] “the population mean is Y,” it must also be invalid to say “there’s a 95% chance the population mean is between X and Z.” That’s attaching a probability to a hypothesis, and therefore a no-no! Instead, what a frequentist confidence interval is really telling you is “assuming this data is a representative sample, if I repeat my experimental procedure an infinite number of times then I’ll calculate a sample mean between X and Z 95% of the time.” A confidence interval says nothing about the test statistic, at least not directly.

In frequentism, the parameter is fixed and the data varies. It doesn’t make sense to consider other parameters, that’s a Bayesian move. And yet the authors propose exactly that!

We must learn to embrace uncertainty. One practical way to do so is to rename confidence intervals as ‘compatibility intervals’ and interpret them in a way that avoids overconfidence. Specifically, we recommend that authors describe the practical implications of all values inside the interval, especially the observed effect (or point estimate) and the limits. In doing so, they should remember that all the values between the interval’s limits are reasonably compatible with the data, given the statistical assumptions used to compute the interval. Therefore, singling out one particular value (such as the null value) in the interval as ‘shown’ makes no sense.

Much of what the authors proposed would be fixed by switching to Bayesian statistics. Their own suggestions invoke Bayesian ideas without realizing it. Yet they go out of their way to say nothing’s wrong with p-values or confidence intervals, despite evidence to the contrary. Their proposal is destined to fail, yet it got more support than the arguably-superior p < 0.005 proposal.

Maddening. Maybe it’s time I got out my poison pen and added my two cents to the scientific record.

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria

Remember that old thing? No? OK, quick summary:

Parental reports (on social media) of friend clusters exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria and increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity raise the possibility of social and peer influences.

Littman L (2018) Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0202330.

In short, maybe social media is making the kids transgender? This seems like something someone should study, and someone did!

Poorly. [Read more…]

I Think I Get It

We seem to be in a cycle. Every time PZ Myers posts something about transgender people, the comment thread floods with transphobes. Given the names involved, I suspect this is due to Ophelia Benson’s effect on the atheio/skeptic sphere.

Regardless, there may be another pattern in play. The go-to argument of these transphobes was transgender athletes, with the old bathroom line showing up late in the thread. I had a boo at GenderCritical on Reddit, to assess if this was just a local thing, and noticed there were more stories about athletics than bathrooms over there. Even one of the bigots thought this was new. Has there been a shift of rhetoric among transphobes?

If so, I think I understand why.

[Read more…]